How Far Can We Go?

by Richard Munn|Published 07-17-2006

How far we can paddle and portage is a given amount of time depends on a number of factors. The two most important are the age/experience level of the paddlers, and the style of trip desired.

Age and experience is apretty obvious influence. If we have young children or novice paddlers in our group, we have to be realistic and scale back the paddling distance we are doing to suit those paddlers. It is especially important to realize that with children, one of the main issues is attention span - children simply will not tolerate eight hours in a canoe.

The style of trip is strictly a matter of personal preference. Some groups like to paddle from dusk to dawn and cover incredible distances. Others (like myself) prefer to have that extra cup of coffee in the morning, and set up camp a little earlier in the afternoon. Ask yourself some questions about the members in your group. Are there people who will want to spend time fishing, photographing the scenery, or simply stopping to admire the route? If so, you had better make allowances for this in your trip itinerary.

The following guidelines should help you in calculating travel time:

  Typical Paddling Speed Time to Paddle 1 km Time to Portage 500 m Typical Daily Distance
Novice, out of shape or young paddlers 2-3 km/hr 20-30 min. 30-40 min 10-12 km
Intermediate Paddlers 4-5 km/hr 8-15 min. 20-30 min 15-20 km
Advanced Paddlers 6 km/hr 10-12 min 20 min 20-30 km

To some extent, you'll have to rely on judgment to calculate paddling time and distance. It only takes a few trips to begin to form that judgment. As you paddle more and more, you'll also get to know what your particular group's tolerance for paddling time.

A couple of things to consider, though...

Bad weather, or a stiff headwind will slow down even experienced and strong paddlers to a crawl. Less experienced paddlers may simply have to get off the water and wait out the storm.

Lots of small portages take much longer than an equivalent distance in long portages. This is because a proportionately larger amount of time is spent loading and unloading the canoes and the start and finish of the portage.

If you're one of these super-human canoeists who can carry everything across the portage trail in one trip, you may make up some time compared to the listing above. I've always been one of those people who needs two trips - maybe I should start leaving the kitchen sink at home.

The distances above are based on typical flatwater routes. If you're on a river with a strong current, you will have to modify these. Even moderately skilled paddlers can travel 30 km or more if they are going downstream on a swift current.

I guess my final comment would have to be this. I've never considered myself as being out there simply to paddle a route for the sake of paddling it or to add it to my"canoeing trophy wall."

I don't remember where I heard it or who said it, but I keep a saying in mind when I plan a trip. "See more of the world ... slow down!" It's worth taking that adage to heart, and take the time to slow down and enjoy all that our wilderness areas have to offer.

Our Daily Time Calculator

Want an easy way to find out how long it's going to take you to complete a paddling day? Enter your distance and portage information into our paddling time calculator ... Give it a Try!